NASA has been using aluminum for over 50 years. Today, it’s one of the first materials manufacturers in spacecraft and aircraft go to, for dozens of reasons. First, like any NASA-selected materials, aluminum has to withstand the environment they are in. Exacerbated conditions include extreme stress, high pressure, and lower-than-average temperatures in space. Aluminum is a metal of choice because it accomplishes high marks.
Aluminum makes up some of the main components of spacecraft, as selected by NASA engineers. Aluminum thrives at overcoming the challenges of launch, landing, and low-earth orbits. There are 3 primary ways aluminum in NASA construction is used.
Thermal protection is so, so important. NASA has to use layers of components such as gold, aluminum, titanium, and nickel to establish a thermal blanket of protection on their satellites, space telescopes, rockets, and anything else they have to send into space.
These thermal, temperature-controlled blankets reflect external heat from the sun while also trapping internal heat on any sides facing away from the sun.
The sun transfers heat through – you guessed it – radiation. This heat is transferred to any equipment, astronauts, and anything else up there in space. Suppose the surface temperatures of any object are not being adequately controlled. In that case, this begins exposing said object to the effects of dangerous radiation from the sun. For this reason, most NASA equipment – if not all – is wrapped in aluminum metal reflectors. These are made with silver, copper, and gold, helping equipment and astronauts maintain a consistent and comfortable temperature.
Aluminum has high marks on strength, long-term durability and performance, and weight efficiency. NASA uses aluminum for these 3 reasons to produce a wide array of mechanical components, including control arms, aluminum wheels, steering knuckles, brake callipers, and automotive cross members. All these things would not be possible without NASA employing aluminum.
NASA’s very own aluminum alloy!
NASA has even created its own aluminum alloy, known as NASA-427. Improvements in strength are perhaps its most practical benefit. More strength means less aluminum is required, which helps to minimize weight. It is also more cost-effective for less material, shortened processing times, and meets all corrosion resistance standards. NASA-427, a new, more robust aluminum, has potential applications on aluminum wheels, control arms, steering knuckles, brake callipers, automotive cross members, and differential carriers.
Why aluminum is a preferred metal.
Aluminum is used by so many industries and spacecraft component design and manufacturing for the same reasons it’s used by NASA. It’s readily abundant, highly reactive, can be readily combined with other metals, making it so valuable, and it’s a source of seemingly never-ending innovation.
Aluminum in NASA is one of their most essential materials, used consistently to update and improve spacecraft technology and assist in designing entirely new technologies. Aluminum has helped and will continue to help make spacecraft more cost-effective, eco-friendly, and energy-efficient. In the decades to come, aluminum will likely continue to serve many purposes in manufacturing aircraft components and allowing astronauts to travel the solar system most efficiently.